The Kind of Photographer, Artisan or Technician

Is there a difference between the photographer who uses film versus the one who uses digital cameras? And I always preface this question with the understanding that there is no right and wrong way with art–neither digital nor film is inherently better than the other, just different ways of working.

I was thinking about the people who I know who approach photography analog-ly vs digitally and how different they are. How the digital photographers are typically more computer-literate, more tech-savvy, and have the latest and greatest digital cameras, but not too many of them. And how the film photographers often own multiple cameras in various film formats, and somehow have a simpler way of working with whichever film camera they’re using–often one camera and one lens.

What is it about the medium that draws a different artist? Is the oil painter and the watercolorist one and the same, or totally different artists? Does the medium matter, Mr. McLuhan?

We’re all making pictures. The film photographers I know tend to take it further and actually make photographs–you know, those things printed on paper you can hold in your hand. The digital photographers I know tend to work online mostly exclusively, their work is all screen-based.

I find myself squarely in the film photographer circle, as I believe in the power of the image made with silver, and the value of the print. I know friends who I worked professionally with who were just as much into film as I was, and now only shoot digital.

And there are many digital photographers who look at film photography and say, “No thanks, goodbye and good riddance.”

It doesn’t seem to me to be an either-or proposition. I shoot digital cameras for many purposes, commercially, for web use, just not the photographs that I care most about, or that I intend to print. But for many photographers, it seems to be a battle of us versus them. For them, both cannot exist.

Certainly they can. Oil paint and watercolors make it work. Both are making paintings.

I would contend that the actual process of shooting a film portrait changes the session. That it puts the subject more at ease, it slows down the process and the sitter gives the photographer more time and reveals more in the portrait. Many photographers can attest to this including Gregory Heisler who still sometimes uses film for celebrity portraits. How can you not respond differently to a large wooden camera or a vintage Hasselblad than a hulking DSLR with a zoom lens?

There’s a difference in the printing process, whereas the film photographer may hand-print their photograph in the darkroom using light-sensitive photo paper, chemicals, hands-on skills and techniques, while the digital photographer, who is often not printing, if they do make a print it’s sent to a printer machine to output the image.

The film photographer seems to me to be an artisan, a craftsman, like a woodworker or a sculptor. They know how to use the tools in their hands to make a photograph with their hands. No computer is required. No power even, if using a mechanical shutter.

Their only digits are their fingers!

The digital photographer is very dependent on power, both physical and computing. Their whole creation and delivery system is based on a powered lit screen. They are tied to a more advanced system than the analog photographer who simply uses light and chemicals.

So, is there a difference? What about the digital photographer who prints their work and the analog photographer who scans and share their work online only? You can find hybrids out there as well.

I am that hybrid. I shoot film and print, shoot film and scan for online, shoot digital and print, and shoot digital and keep online. There can be many kinds of photographer.

Is there a difference in personality type between the two? Is there a certain kind of person who is drawn to the hands-on world of film versus the computer world of digital?

We are all creative. Perhaps, whichever way we go, we are choosing the way that best satisfies our creative soul, and that’s all that really matters.

I have a thing for people posed framed in car windows!

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